October 2019

Triggered by a post on Prof. Durgin’s website, I spent few hours in recalling the history of RFIDs through a podcast and an article by the BBC. It led me to think and explore about digital twins, a topic I overlooked for too long. It was time for me to get up to date.

The Cold War spy technology which we all use

The first RFID tag was invented during the Cold War and it captured conversations of the US ambassador for 7 years. It was called The Thing at that time and it was “hanging on the wall of his study. […]. The listening device was inside The Thing - and it was ingeniously simple, little more than an antenna attached to a cavity with a silver diaphragm over it, serving as a microphone. There were no batteries or any other source of power.”

A simpler form was actually used during the WWII on planes to distinguish friends from foes and it evolved up“to be applied in several new applications. In 1999, Kevin Ashton, from fast-moving consumer-goods company Procter and Gamble, coined a phrase perfectly calculated to capture the excitement: RFID, he said, could lead to "the internet of things (IOT)".

Smartphones, in the late 2000s, overshadowed the RFID technology and now the IoT devices “are sophisticated and packed with processing power - but are also costly and need a substantial power source.”

RFIDs, instead, are simple, inexpensive, and low powered devices. They are the perfect interface between the physical and the digital world. A useful tool for computers and artificial intelligences to sense the surrounding environments and build their own augmented understanding of the world.  

Can RFIDs contribute in developing Digital Twins? Or are Digital Twins being developed having only in mind the current, complex, oversophisticated digital IoT infrastructure dominated by power hungry Bluetooth sensors and expensive smart phones?

But first, what is a Digital Twin?

Digital Twins Grow Up

"We have reached a point where it's possible to have all the information embedded in a physical object reside within a digital representation," says Michael Grieves, chief scientist for advanced manufacturing at the Florida Institute of Technology and the originator of the concept nearly two decades ago.

Digital twins will further transform business and introduce newer, less-expensive, safer frameworks for constructing, managing, and maintaining things. "Since time immemorial we have had physical things with very sparse representation of them—mostly in paper, blueprints, and spreadsheets. We're now approaching a level of digital capability where we can accurately predict how a physical system will operate."

How can they be used?

What Is Digital Twin Technology - And Why Is It So Important?

Digital twin technology helps companies improve the customer experience by better understanding customer needs, develop enhancements to existing products, operations, and services, and can even help drive the innovation of new business.

For example, GE’s “digital wind farm” opened up new ways to improve productivity. GE uses the digital environment to inform the configuration of each wind turbine prior to construction. Its goal is to generate 20% gains in efficiency by analyzing the data from each turbine that is fed to its virtual equivalent.

RFID, IoT, and Digital Twins can surely contribute, among other, in improving our health and the overall health system. Nonetheless, the real first step that we (I?) need to undertake to stay healthy is, of course, food.

Our Food Is Killing Too Many of Us

Although this article is focused on the American heath crisis and its expensive healthcare system, it provides some good suggestions for the industry and the public for a healthier future.

Health care is expensive, and Americans are sick.

And Americans are sick — much sicker than many realize. […]. Three in four adults are overweight or obese. More Americans are sick, in other words, than are healthy. […] Poor diet is the leading cause of mortality in the United States, causing more than half a million deaths per year.

Some simple, measurable improvements can be made in several health and related areas. For example, Medicare, Medicaid, private insurers and hospitals should include nutrition in any electronic health record; update medical training, licensing and continuing education guidelines to put an emphasis on nutrition; offer patient prescription programs for healthy produce; and, for the sickest patients, cover home-delivered, medically tailored meals. Just the last action, for example, can save a net $9,000 in health care costs per patient per year. […] The private sector can also play a key role. Changes in shareholder criteria (e.g., B-Corps, in which a corporation can balance profit versus purpose with high social and environmental standards) and new investor coalitions should financially reward companies for tackling obesity, diabetes and other diet-related illness.

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